The Newry Canal

The earliest summit-level canal in the United Kingdom

The Newry canal is the earliest summit-level canal in the United Kingdom, predating both the Sankey Cut at St Helens, and the Bridgewater Canal to Manchester. It was designed to exploit the small deposit of coal in Coalisland, Co Tyrone, and to carry it to Dublin. Work started in 1731 under the initial direction of Sir Edward Lovett, followed by his deputy, Richard Cassels, and finally, the engineer Thomas Steers.

It was finally completed in 1742. On March 28 that same year, the Cope and the Boulter sailed into the port of Dublin with cargoes of Tyrone coal. The making of the canal was a great engineering feat: with 15 locks, it crossed 18 miles of rough country to a height of 78 feet above sea level, to connect Lough Neagh to the sea.

The Newry canal was followed by the Ulster Canal and the Lagan Navigation Canal, both of which successfully opened up their hinterlands to trade until surpassed by the railways.

The building of the canal from Newry to Lough Neagh in the 1730s brought prosperity to Portadown, and the town developed alongside the linen industry. Today its factories make carpets, industrial ceramics, and jam.

© Belfast Industrial Heritage 2004

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